Railroad Stories: Farm Girl Got Special Gift First Time Riding the Rails

Conductor gave child a gift on her first time riding the rails

Content Tools

My family moved to a new farm in 1929, where I'm sure the nearby railroad was known as Fortsmith and Western. This was during the Depression and Dust Bowl days. Jobs were scarce and hobos riding the rails were plentiful. I was almost 5 years old, and to watch that big noise maker roll by was really something for a little farm girl.

My big memory was five years later. Mother was our church delegate to a convention, which happened to be in the town my sister and her husband lived with their son. The baby was only about a month old. I was going to get to go along and ride the train.

When the time came for Mother and me to board, this man who worked for the railroad asked me how old I was. When I told him that I was 10, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a nickel, handed it to me and told me that if I always kept it, I would never be broke. He was the conductor and a very nice man.

When we got back home, Mother gave me the box my canary's feed came in and some cotton, and told me to put my nickel in there. Then we put it in her trunk where all important things were kept.

After I graduated from high school, I went to Cadet nurse's training for a year and a half, only to learn that I didn't want to be a nurse. So I joined the Navy Waves. With my nurse's training, I was sent to Corps school, then to the U.S. Naval Hospital.

I returned to Oklahoma in 1952, with my two sons, on the day Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower became our president. My 6-year-old son was at his grandma and grandpa's house, and he ran inside screaming that the house was on fire. It burned completely. We lost a lot of valuable family treasures.

A few days later, I was standing in the room where Mother kept her trunk, and I happened to think about my nickel. I started digging in the ashes and realized the box was gone, along with the high school diplomas, etc. But lying there in its exact shape, with the date and printing still legible, was my train gift, my nickel, in perfect condition.

So in spite of the many years and the fire, it seems the conductor was right. I'm 76 years old now, and I'm still not broke! I still have the nickel that was given to me on my very first train ride, in 1934.

Mrs. Johnnie Douvillier
Jones, Okla.

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.